Politics: Dobson cleared of appointing `yes men'

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The Independent Online
Frank Dobson has been cleared of appointing Labour "yes men" to the new NHS trust boards. Colin Brown reports.

Allies of the Secretary of State for Health said last night that he had been cleared of an alleged scandal over the appointment of NHS hospital chiefs, following claims that he sacked local Tories to make way for Labour placemen.

Sir Leonard Peach, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, found no evidence to support the main complaint made against Mr Dobson's handling of the appointments by John Maples, the Tory spokesman on health.

The commissioner said in a letter to Mr Maples that Mr Dobson told Sir Leonard about his wish to ensure the boards of health authorities and hospital trusts were more representative of the local communities in which they served by appointing more councillors from local authorities.

"My response was that he was free to do so, subject to complying with my Code of Practice ... On the evidence available to me, I believe that the Secretary of State's public pronouncements and communications have followed this line," said Sir Leonard. However, he is testing testing the quality of the appointments with a rolling programme of audits on the way they were handled in the eight NHS regions.

The Tories accused Mr Dobson of carrying out a purge of Tory supporters from the NHS boards, and replacing them with Labour stooges. But the minister's friends said he had sent a letter to all Tory MPs asking them to submit names, and only a third replied. Only four members of the Shadow Cabinet responded.

Those who did not reply included the former Health Secretary, Stephen Dorrell and Mr Maples. Mr Maples claimed Sir Len's letter showed that the appointments were being investigated, but Mr Dobson said: "It is absolutely astonishing that John Maples should repeat the allegations which he knows to be untrue from Sir Len Peach. It takes sheer brass neck to cite Sir Len as corroboration for the discredited smears they they are putting round."

Meanwhile, Mr Dobson has been promised by Tony Blair a real-terms increase in spending on the NHS to match the Government's celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the health service.

The Health Secretary has won the Prime Minister's backing for a boost in his budget and an extra pounds 2bn could be added to the NHS spending this year after the Chancellor's comprehensive review of spending.

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